Alberta is engulfed in a heartbreaking crisis of children’s health that makes even official cruelty inevitable.
Terminally ill children are moved from the hospices where they were lovingly cared for in their dying, to the Alberta Children’s Hospital itself, along with their care teams.
Respite care, which helps families whose children have severe disabilities, will simply stop. The children will be sent home or to other destinations that parents can arrange.
Everyone involved is upset that this is happening.
Dr. Ed Les, an ER doctor at Children’s Hospital who blogs passionately and often controversially about what he sees, posted Sunday:
“That we are forced to abandon children who have suffered the worst so that we instead other children is something I never, ever thought I would witness as a doctor in a country as rich and advanced as Canada.
“This is something that should keep us all up at night; and something that – if nothing else – should prompt your government to take proper control of this crisis.”
The UCP, in its late-pandemic denial, has not publicly raised a real system collapse to anything like the level it deserves.
There is an almost pathological reluctance to acknowledge the power of this latest viral assault, so desperate are the leaders to move on. At a time when so many children are sick, Premier Danielle Smith seems most passionate about protecting people against vaccination.
The government is also frozen in a crisis of its own making, the act of sovereignty.
It is arguably the worst piece of legislation introduced in Alberta since the Social Credit Bills of the 1930s, which sought, among other things, to jail critics of the government and place national banks under provincial control.
The sovereignty law has three massive problems; it is truly dictatorial, too broad in scope and completely impractical.
This includes an outrageous application of the “Henry VIII clause”, which takes the power to change and write laws away from the legislature and gives it to the prime minister and cabinet.
The clause got its name from the murderous king who in 1531 enacted the Statute of Sewers (just in our new context) which gave taxation powers to permanent commissions.
The federal government recently used the tactic in its greenhouse gas pricing bill. Alberta vigorously opposed this in the Supreme Court.
“This provision, known as a ‘Henry VIII clause’, is inherently inconsistent with established notions of parliamentary democracy and offends the rule of law,” says a provincial submission.
Now Smith’s government is the offender – but much more widely.
Once the cabinet has a legislative resolution on some federal offense, the prime minister and ministers have full power to rewrite laws, declare laws invalid, write entirely new laws and issue action orders to “provincial entities”.
All this without further reference to the legislature, whose main reason for existence is supposed to be to debate, amend and pass laws.
Cabinet orders will expire in two years – unless ministers decide to extend them for another two.
The UCP always complains about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergency Act. Who is the dictator now?
Second, the sovereignty law is ridiculously broad. It would grant the power to defy federal law, not only when a federal move is likely to be unconstitutional, but even when virtually anything Ottawa says offends the government.
A “Federal initiative” that may trigger retaliation is defined as “a Federal law, program, policy, agreement, or action, or a proposed or anticipated Federal law, program, policy, agreement, or action.”
Trudeau’s thoughts on morning coffee could send Alberta into a paroxysm of retaliation.
Finally, and equally absurd, anti-Ottawa actions will be carried out by “provincial entities” – that is, almost any body that receives provincial funding, and some that do not, including municipalities, school boards, universities and police forces.
For example, an entity may be ordered not to pay federal carbon taxes in retaliation for some violation. The appointed board members, forced to break a law, would void their own liability insurance.
This is just one of a thousand unforeseen complications. This bill could create a powerful Alberta resistance movement — but against the heavy-handed province, not Ottawa.
Pediatric respite care pause in Calgary puts health system on ‘knife’s edge’
Braid: Smith wins but Bill 1 heats up. Alberta first fought federal ‘Henry VIII’ clause last year
Braid: Smith’s Sovereignty Action troops are uneasy about following her into battle
Braid: The Alberta Sovereignty Act finally lands. It’s so difficult that Ottawa might consider refusing
Braid: Albertans won’t forget Smith’s talk show years — because she meant what she said
For good measure (and for good reason), the law prohibits any Albertan injured in this forced march from suing the government.
Yes, the province often has to push back against Ottawa. Sure, the Feds stretch the constitution every chance they get.
But there are many legal steps the province can take without a sovereignty law. Five of Smith’s leadership opponents made that case forcefully during the campaign. Four got cabinet work and now they sing Smith’s song.
This bill is a complete mess that makes Alberta look ridiculous. It is seriously eroding Albertans’ own democratic rights with little prospect of doing any good.
The prime minister and her cabinet must abandon the sovereignty law and focus their full attention on the things it really needs – for example the children’s health crisis.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald